News | Danielle Dirksen: Winner of PSR Outstanding Undergraduate Student of the Year Award

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by Adylbek Abdykalikov, USC, IPPAM 2020

We are delighted to present another PSR Outstanding Student of the Year award winner. In this article, we feature one of our two PSR Outstanding Undergraduate Students of the Year, USC Sol Price School of Public Policy Student and METRANS Student Newsletter Publisher, Danielle Dirksen. This year, PSR selected two undergraduate students for this award.


Dirksen is a senior majoring in Urban Studies and Planning with a double minor in Environmental Studies and Occupational Science. She is passionate about transportation, specifically enhancing mobility and improving public transit for traditionally disadvantaged and marginalized communities. Dirksen was nominated for the PSR Student of the Year by Professor Genevieve Giuliano.


To fulfill her interest in transportation, Dirksen attended and actively participated in various transportation-related events. She was selected by faculty and staff to represent USC at the California Transportation Foundation Education Symposium, earning second place in the team competition. She is also actively engaged in various Women’s Transportation Seminar (WTS) events, and represented the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) USC Student Chapter at the 6th Annual Student Leadership Summit.


Photo Credit: Eric Shen Photography


Dirksen previously interned at Metrolink. She says that working in the Planning and Development Department there has given her the valuable opportunity to be heavily involved in strategic planning. In this position, “I could see firsthand the level of thought and planning that must go into the ten, twenty, and thirty-year plans that envision and shape Metrolink’s future,” she shared.


As part of her responsibilities, Dirksen was in charge of writing comment letters during the environmental review and approval processes. “I have also had the opportunity to create memos and briefs for the CEO regarding station relocations and involvement with our member agencies,” she noted.


Also at Metrolink, Dirksen was tasked with researching Mobility as a Service and investigating how Metrolink might adopt this concept. She also contributed to the improvement of the agency’s internal processes. One of her initiatives was creating a multi-media presentation to talk about the concept of Embedded Planning, a new practice in the urban planning field coined by Jonathan Pacheco Bell, an urban planner in South Central Los Angeles. Embedded Planning is a concept centered around street-level engagement, which focuses on the people that these projects are for and brings the community into the planning process.


After graduation, Dirksen will pursue a career in transportation, ideally as a transit planner or a transportation consultant, specializing in community engagement and strategic planning. She also hopes to be afforded the opportunity to obtain practical experience within the public sector at a major transit agency in Los Angeles or the Bay area before her next goal of pursuing a master’s degree in Civil Engineering and Planning.


In the long-term, Dirksen plans to practice Embedded Planning in the transportation planning field, wherever her path takes her, “balancing the qualitative and quantitative aspects of planning and working with people, in both the private and public sectors.” She shares that her ultimate goal is to radicalize the transportation planning field in healthy way, helping to shift the profession from being desk-based to field-oriented.


Concurrently with all of this, Dirksen leads the METRANS Student Newsletter, a weekly publication with an international audience of several thousand subscribers, serving as Publisher. After her first position as a news writer, she was soon selected by her peers to run ‘METRANS on the Move’ newsletter, and handles it like a pro.  The train not only runs on time under Dirksen’s watch, but runs well.


Giuliano finds both Dirksen’s leadership abilities and her potential to contribute significantly to both practice and academia to be consistently demonstrated throughout her many successes as an undergraduate, and expects this to continue beyond her time at USC.  “Danielle Dirksen will surely make a major contribution to the field,” said Giuliano.


On behalf of METRANS Transportation Center, we heartily congratulate Danielle Dirksen and expect that this is only the beginning of a promising and successful future!


About the Author:

Adylbek Abdykalikov is a graduate student in the International Public Policy and Management Program at USC Price. He has working experience in various positions at the Ministries of Transport and Communication and Investment and Development of Kazakhstan and was in charge of Transportation and Civil Aviation policy development and implementation. He serves as the lead writer to METRANS Newsletter and lead student event coordinator for METRANS and PSR.